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Thousands of Brazilians join rallies to condemn riots at national congress

Supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed buildings in Brasilia on Sunday.

THOUSANDS OF BRAZILIANS have demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to demand “no amnesty” for supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro who stormed key buildings in Brazil’s capital on Sunday.

“These people need to be punished, the people who ordered it need to be punished, those who gave money for it need to be punished,” Bety Amin, 61, said on Sao Paulo’s main boulevard.

The word “Democracy” stretched across the back of her shirt. “They don’t represent Brazil. We represent Brazil,” she said.

Protesters’ push for accountability evokes memories of an amnesty law that for decades has protected military members accused of abuse and murder during the country’s 1964-85 dictatorship.

embedded270505849 A demonstrator wearing a mask depicting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends a protest calling for protection of the nation’s democracy in Sao Paulo

A 2014 truth commission report sparked debate over how Brazil has grappled with the regime’s legacy.

Declining to mete out punishment “can avoid tensions at the moment, but perpetuates instability”, Luis Felipe Miguel, a professor of political science at the University of Brasilia, wrote in a column entitled No Amnesty published yesterday evening.

“That is the lesson we should have learned from the end of the military dictatorship, when Brazil opted not to punish the regime’s killers and torturers.”

Brazilian police have already rounded up roughly 1,500 rioters, with some caught in the act of vandalising Brazil’s Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace, while the majority were detained the following morning at an encampment in Brasilia.

Many were held in a gym throughout the day, and video shared on pro-Bolsonaro social media channels showed some complaining about poor treatment in the crowded space.

embedded270505965 Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a meeting with governors and leaders of the Supreme Court and the National Congress (Eraldo Peres / AP) (Eraldo Peres / AP) / AP)

The Federal Police’s press office told The Associated Press the force plans to indict at least 1,000 people, and has begun transferring them to the nearby Papuda prison.

The administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva says that is only the start.

Justice minister Flavio Dino vowed to prosecute those who acted behind the scenes to summon supporters on social media and finance their transport for crimes including organised crime, staging a coup, and violent abolition of the democratic rule of law.

He also said authorities would investigate allegations that local security personnel allowed the destruction to proceed unabated.

“We cannot and will not compromise in fulfilling our legal duties,”  Dino said. “This fulfilment is essential so such events do not repeat themselves.”

The new president signed a decree ordering the federal government to assume control of security in the capital on Sunday. It was approved by Congress’ Lower House yesterday night, and now proceeds to the Senate.

embedded270504780 A worker inspects destroyed computers in the main entrance of Planalto Palace, the office of the president, the day after it was stormed (Eraldo Peres / AP) (Eraldo Peres / AP) / AP)

The riot in Brasilia was a reminder of the threat to democracy posed by far-right elements that refuse to accept Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat.

Since his 30 October loss, they have camped outside military barracks, pleading for intervention to allow Bolsonaro to remain in power and to oust Lula. When no coup materialised, they rose up themselves.

Decked out in the green and yellow of the national flag, they broke windows, damaged furniture and hurled computers and printers to the ground.

They punched holes in a massive Emiliano Di Cavalcanti painting at the presidential palace and destroyed other works of art.

They overturned the U-shaped table where Supreme Court justices convene, ripped a door off one justice’s office and vandalised a statue outside the court. Hours passed before police expelled the mob.

“It’s unacceptable what happened yesterday. It’s terrorism,” Marcelo Menezes, a 59-year-old police officer from north-eastern Pernambuco state, said at a protest in Sao Paulo. “I’m here in defence of democracy, I’m here in defence of the people.”

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